If you're considering switching up your EHR or practice management system (PMS) technology in the coming year, it's likely you've already got a wish list of improvements you're hoping to see in a new platform. But the dynamic health IT market has undergone tremendous changes in the past few years — some of which could mean new opportunities or new pitfalls for physician practices. Here are a few important trends I think would-be switchers should keep in mind.
The cloud rolls on
Some of the biggest innovations in EHR and PMS platforms in the last five years have been spurred by the cloud. Offering hosted systems on a subscription basis has enabled vendors to roll out improvements more frequently, without disrupting their clients' businesses.
Cloud systems offer many advantages to independent practices. With cloud systems, you won't have to worry about securing a server in your office, and you'll avoid most maintenance hassles and some costs. It's usually a snap to get new physicians and staff onto the system as soon as you're ready — even if they're setting up in a new location. Plus, more frequent improvements means new built-in features and more third party add-ons.
Even if you're currently hosting your own server, consider cloud-based alternatives in your search for a new platform. One option might even be the vendor you're currently using. Many vendors that started selling only servers now offer cloud-hosted options.
Self-service: from key advantage to table stakes
Health care has been slower to embrace the internet-enabled self-service trend than some other industries. But the shift has gradually been moving through our field, too. And you'll want to be sure any new platforms you adopt are ready to help you capitalize on it.
Self-service options like online bill payment and self-scheduling have the distinct advantage of giving patients something they strongly prefer, while also making your practice more profitable and efficient. By shifting some administrative tasks to patients, you'll be able to divert staff to more valuable tasks and get paid faster, all while enhancing your practice's image. As more practices make self-service available, your practice's image could be tarnished if you don't keep up. In your search for a new system, be sure the options you consider can help you address this key trend, whether through built-in features or partnerships with third-party providers.
Mergers on the horizon?
As of July, 2017, the CMS still listed more than 600 individual vendors of EHRs used by physicians in ambulatory practices who had participated in Meaningful Use. This is a large number for relatively small segment, and a significant shake-out has long seemed inevitable. Now that Meaningful Use incentives no longer drive the market, the long-predicted consolidation may finally be gaining steam. Allscripts' newsworthy acquisition of Practice Fusion has helped fuel speculation that small- and mid-sized systems are likely to be snapped up by bigger EHR vendors in the near future.
What does this mean for your switching strategy? Whether an acquisition of your tech vendor will affect your practice's day-to-day operations depends in part on what prompted the merger in the first place.
Systems with few differentiating features may be more likely to be targeted for acquisition primarily for their user bases, not their products. In those cases, the technology itself could be abandoned, meaning you'll be facing another switch (to a platform you didn't even choose). For instance, a financially struggling vendor that hasn't been able to invest in its technology, provide excellent support, or build up a huge base of loyal physician users may also be more likely to be purchased for their user base.
On the other hand, a company that offers the best or only tool for a particular specialty's needs could be acquired by a larger player who needs the technology and plans to continue to support it. Or its product leadership — especially if combined with strong support and a strong business — could enable it to compete more effectively and stay independent (at least for the coming few years).
Analytics for your practice
"Data analytics" is all the rage in health care. It's usually mentioned in the context of larger hospital systems and the government's interest in measuring population health and reducing costs. But becoming more data-driven offers big benefits to independent practices, too. If you're not using the data in your EHR and PMS to understand your own business, you're missing out on information that can help you grow and thrive.
If you don't have great reporting already —including the ability to export structured reports to Excel and create your own custom queries — make sure that's on your wish list as you shop for new system vendors.